Monday, January 11, 2010

Life on Crutches, Part Two

I went home from Stanford Hospital in mid December 1982, my left leg internally and externally splinted, my belly as big as a beachball. I had six weeks left until the much anticipated due date, with nothing much to do since I was not authorized by my orthopedist to go back to work. And being on crutches, I couldn't really go out, or at least I couldn't go very far. In addition, it was a rainy winter that year, which didn't help. I was pretty much housebound in our small cottage with no TV, no internet, and no DVD player. I do remember having to do stretching exercises in order to eventually be able to bend my knee. For some weird reason, my orthopedist did not believe in utilizing physical therapists for his patients; he was a very experienced, almost-retired physician and must have been from the old you-can-do-this-yourself school of medicine. I remember the day we returned from the hospital, trying to get up our TWO steps from our cement walkway into the house; it must have been pretty funny to watch, because no one had instructed me how to use the damn crutches to get up/down stairs and I was pretty clueless.

My due date came and went, and then two days later, on Groundhog Day, I went into active labor. I remember that Jim had to put the passenger seat of our Toyota Corolla as far back as it would go, to fit both me and my straight-legged splint into the car. Sean was born in a non-hospital setting, a little after 10 pm that night. We were back at home by dawn the next day. A relatively uneventful event after way too much excitment in December.

One of my sisters came and stayed with us for two weeks to help out (a god-send). But after she went back to New York, I had a newborn that I pushed from room to room in a stroller, one hand pushing the stroller, one hand firmly gripping a single crutch, even though I was supposed to be using two crutches at the time.

About a month after Sean was born, we got more wonderful news: we had to move. Our landlord, our wonderful absentee landlord, had decided to tear down our lovely little cottage and the mirror image cottage in back of ours that were both on the same plot of land, in order to build a montrous two story stucco house. C'est la vie. It would have been fine, except for the fact that we had no place to go. I wasn't working and didn't know when I would be able to return to work due to my broken leg; Jim was working part-time. We had been able to rent our cottage below market rate, WAY below market rate, for many years; we were stunned by the cost of renting a house in our neighborhood. We hadn't planned on having to move, at least not so soon. So, we punted. For a year, we house-sat for friends, filling the occasional gaps between housesitting gigs with a stay at the "Cinderalla Motel" on El Camino, renting the suite with a kitchen and dragging our ubiquitous rented stationary bicycle with us, which I had started to use for my do-it-yourself "physical therapy" sessions after Sean was born.

Then Jim and one of his close friends had an idea; we would build a cabin together, up on our friend's land. Two couples (and one baby), in one house. To some, this might sound like a clever housing solution on paper, but its a very bad idea in practice and I thank my lucky stars that, after much discussion, we decided not to go through with it. Instead, we did the next best thing; we built two separate cabins on our friend's land, without the blessing of the local planning and zoning department.

Late that first summer, as Jim was feverishly trying to complete our one-room cabin in time for the winter rainy season, I spent the month of August camping out with a six month old baby, using our large canvas tent for a playroom during the daytime if it wasn't too hot. Otherwise, Sean's playroom was his playpen, at best a cramped environment for a six month old for the entire day. Our campsite was a flat spot next to the creek. To get the the campsite, one had to descend about six steep dirt steps carved into the hillside. I was still on crutches, and had gotten pretty good at going up and down steps, even dirt steps, but could not yet manage this task with a heavy six month old baby tucked under one arm, so I was pretty much stuck at the campsite all day. It didn't really matter; Jim was a quarter mile up the steep, winding dirt road, hauling lumber and pounding nails anyway. I was totally by myself, all day long, in the woods, with a baby and no contact with the outside world. How I did this for an entire month, I'm not quite sure, but at the end of 30 days, I am sure that I had had enough of the life of Pioneer Woman. When I was a young'un, I fancied myself as Laura Wilder Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie fame; my one month canvas-tent-camping-experience-on-crutches-with-a-baby dashed that dream to teeny, tiny bits.

In actuality, the final factor that drove us back to town was not the crumbling of my stoicism, but a trip to the orthopedist - my femur wasn't healing, and I would need to be hooked up to electricity for twelve hours a day for three months to stimulate bone growth between the ends of the two broken bones, something that could not be easily attained out in the woods, off the grid. I remember being quite shocked at hearing the news from my doctor, and telling him I couldn't possibly do this, the place where we lived simply did not have electricity. And he quietly told me that if I did not move to a place that had electricity, my leg bone simply would not heal.

So, after a month of camping in the woods, we moved back to town, ultimately to spend the winter months with dear friends who didn't mind if I breastfed my baby sitting on the linoleum floor of their kitchen. We had a great time living with them; Sean loved "Old Alice", my friend's mother, who was a sweet, deaf old lady in her 90s who later gave us her special brownie recipe, from memory, that would forever be known by Sean as "Rubber Cake".

Could Life on Crutches get any more exciting? Well, there is one more chapter to the story. Stay tuned.


  1. thank you for sharing this story with us. i'm looking forward to the next installment.

  2. the way, i think you're incredible to camp out with a six month old... i have enough trouble getting the little ones to the grocery store.